Writing resumes and cover letters is hard. Writing resumes and cover letters in another language is even harder. But we think that stepping out of your comfort zone to follow your dreams of working abroad is awesome (and worth all of the application writing agony), so we’re here to help you to (literally) get there.
Most job offers start with a good application and every good application is preceded by research and more research – this helpful article might be a good starting point. Then, some of these tips should do the trick:
1. Know your resume from your CV
Even though the words are used interchangeably in English, a resume and a CV are not the same document.
Your CV is a detailed list of your career, education, and achievements – it includes (almost) everything you’ve ever done and doesn’t change for different job applications. Now, if a CV were a full-length film about your career, the resume would be the trailer: It’s much shorter – preferably one but never more than two pages – and changes as you have to tailor it to the job you’re applying for. The resume basically only covers the skills and achievements that are important for a particular job and should give the hiring manager an overview of who you are and what you can bring to the company.
2. And know when to use which
But wait, there’s more – the two documents are also used differently across the world: According to Undercover Recruiter, North Americans usually prefer resumes (unless it’s requested otherwise or you apply for an academic or research-oriented job), while recruiters and employers in the UK, Ireland, Europe, and New Zealand generally only use CVs. To make things a little easier, Australians, Indians, and South Africans use the terms interchangeably and, as a rule of thumb, resumes seem to be preferred in the private sector whereas CVs are used for public service positions. However, it will be best to ask (the HR office or a local friend) how much detail you need to provide.
3. Pick the right language
Write the application in the language the job ad is in. You can always add a translated version if the job ad language is not the country’s native language. (For example, if you reply to an English-speaking job ad in Germany, you could add both the English and the German application, but English will have priority.) You might also just have LinkedIn profiles in different languages and send the link instead of another document.
4. Customize, customize, customize
Always tailor your application to the country, the job, and the company – if you have an exceptional application that shows that you’ve done your research, you might get away with any missing or wrong formalities. Pick only the best and most relevant parts of your CV for your resume or cover letter, and edit, delete, and rearrange mercilessly to hook your audience.
5. Be open about your work permit and language skills
Add your visa status and mention the kind of permit you have. Do not hide or leave out this information, as the recruiter will find out eventually, so save them time and be honest about your status. The same goes for language skills: If you indicated that you’re fluent in a language, native speakers will immediately know if that’s true. This is not the place to cheat and exaggerate.
6. Play by the photo rules
Adding a professional-looking and high-resolution photo to your application is not always a good idea: In the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia, you would never attach a photo. In Germany and France, you have to add a photo. It’s important to do your research here – too many applications get thrown into the trash because they don’t follow the (photo) rules. (This is usually not because you’re not photogenic but for legal reasons, as employers don’t want to risk being accused of discrimination based on appearance.) If you’re not sure about the photo, you can always add your (personalized) LinkedIn URL to your resume header – that way, the recruiter/HR person still has a chance to see what you look like.
7. Meet the ultimate shortcut for European countries
If you want to work in Europe, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when applying for jobs: Check out Europass, an online tool that will help you get all of the necessary documents to show off your skills and qualifications in an easy-to-understand way that also includes templates for your CV and cover letter.
8. Sweat the little things
When you do your research, pay particular attention to the details that can make or break an application before anyone even reads about your achievements and experience: In Germany, for example, you have to sign and date your CV at the bottom. In Japan, you have to fill out (sometimes by hand!) a rirekisho, a Japanese resume with very strict rules, or a shokumu keirekisho that shows off your work experience. In a lot of European countries, you are expected to share your age (date of birth), marital status and even the number of children, which would be an absolute deal breaker in the United States (so don’t do it!). Other important details that are different from country to country are the inclusion (or omission) of a career objective, references, (converted) grades, and the number of documents you need so send along with your application.
9. Get the numbers right
Let’s focus on even more details: You’ll score major points when you add the country code to your phone number and maybe even mention the time difference. The same goes for getting the date right (order of month, day, and year), and choose the correct paper format (in case the application gets printed). This shows that you’ve done your homework and really are as detail-oriented as you claim to be.
10. Ask for help
Job applications always deserve all of the spell-checking and proofreading there is. If you can, have a native speaker, who knows a thing or two about grammar, style, and applications, go over the documents. If you want to apply for a job in a certain country and are willing to do whatever it takes, hiring a local professional resume writer might be a good investment.